K-pop activism helps Thai “Tuk Tuk” drivers

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In Bangkok, Thailand, tuk tuk Vehicle driver Samran Thammasa had never heard of K-pop singer Jessica Jung before the pandemic. Now Jung Fans Help Thammasa Survive Lost Payment tourists.

His green three-wheeled motorized tuk tuk has been mostly unused for over a year. Over the past few months, however, he has earned around 600 baht, or $ 19 per month, for putting K-pop ads on his vehicle.

K-pop, or Korean popular music, is known the world over for its catchy sound and very loyal fans.

Thammasa said the extra money “might not be a lot for most people, but it is for us,” looking at Jung’s bright and colorful ad.

Bangkok tuk tuks have been hit hard by the pandemic’s effects on Thailand’s tourism industry. The drivers are now sitting on the corners of deserted city streets talking about their financial worries.

Samran earned around 1,500 baht, or $ 47, a day driving foreign tourists around Bangkok. Almost all of that is gone, with visitor numbers dropping 85% in 2020. Thailand is not expected to lift its border restrictions for months.

Unexpected help came this year from young K-pop loving Thai adults. In the past, they bought advertisements on public transport to celebrate star birthdays and record releases. Now they are giving their advertising money to small businesses, including tuk tuk operators and street food vendors.

Over the past few months, young fans have worked together to display ads of their favorite K-pop stars on vehicles. Each ad, or advertisement, lasts a month and provides essential support to drivers in difficulty.

Samran and many others are now driving their empty tuk tuks around Bangkok with an announcement from a different K-pop star every month. They stop for young Thai fans to take pictures and use their service.

Tuk-tuk driver Samran Thammasa drives his vehicle decorated with a banner of K-pop star Jessica Jung, in Bangkok, Thailand on May 12, 2021. (REUTERS / Chalinee Thirasupa)

Political expression

So far, the plan has helped several hundred tuk tuk drivers. There are over 9,000 tuk tuks in Bangkok, according to government records.

The buying of ads has its roots in the anti-government protests of the past year. These protests brought together tens of thousands of students demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. He first came to power in 2014 through a military takeover.

Among the protesters were many K-pop fans. Last year they threatened to withdraw billboard advertising money for the Skytrain and city subways after transport was closed. The closures were an attempt by authorities to prevent students from reaching the protest areas.

Fans started spending their advertising dollars differently – printing signs and finding tuk tuk drivers in garage and on the street.

“It is a political expression that we do not support the capitalists,” said Pichaya Prachathomrong, who is 27. “It marked a change from our competition with delivered skytrain and metro display panels. But now they’re tuk tuks, ”she said.

Pichaya raised 18,000 baht, or $ 565, among Thai fans of K-pop boy group Super Junior to publicize the new album by band member Yesung. She found 13 tuk tuks thanks to a new service on the popular mobile phone application LINE.

The “Tuk Up” service was created by Thitipong Lohawech, a 21 year old university student. Initially, her goal was to help drivers who rented vehicles from her family’s garage. But now it supports around 300 drivers from all over Bangkok.

The fans help workers, “which helps spur social change and supports the economy,” Thitipong said.

Drivers said they saw little in the way of government-approved aid of around 967 billion baht, or $ 30 billion. Help was mostly distributed through mobile apps, making it unnecessary for many tuk tuk drivers.

“By the time the money gets to us we are almost dead,” said Pairot Suktham, a 54-year-old driver. Like many others, he does not have a cell phone.

“The fans are our survival system and give us hope to keep fighting,” he said.

I am Alice Bryant.

Reuters news agency reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learn English. Susan Shand was the editor.

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Words in this story

Tuk tuk – not. a three-wheeled motor vehicle used as a taxi

Touristic – not. a person who travels to a place for pleasure

Billboard – not. a large billboard that sits next to a road, on the side of a building, etc.

Garage – not. a building or part of a building in which a car, truck, etc., is kept

Delivered – v. make arrangements for you to use or dispose of later

Application – not. a mobile phone program that performs a special function


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